Bells ring as I seek direction. Some higher calling. Should I be reading my neighbor, author of a work of transgressive literature? I should, thinks the Narrator. “That and some Kathy Acker,” he told himself several weeks ago, “paired with Susan Sontag’s ‘The Literature of Pornography’ and Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye.” He imagined that with the addition of some Herbert Marcuse and some Norman O. Brown, combined with Monique Wittig’s Les Guérillères and Helen Hester’s Xenofeminism, he’d have arrived at summer. But what time had in store for him was something else again.
Author is to a boring legalism led — logorrheic exchange among logos-lovers — when, like Bartleby, he’d prefer not to. “What do I desire instead?” he wonders.
“Audience before a conference of birds,” he answers.
“Transformation of The House on Shady Blvd into an interactive fiction.”
“A door into summer.”
There came a time in the Narrator’s life when the best thing he could think to do was to seek the help of a tarot reader.
And sure enough, he was confronted soon thereafter with a way to do so. The opportunity presented itself, he recalls now in retrospect, at a backyard barbecue one afternoon last summer. “I was there chatting with my friend Saylor,” says the Narrator. “The latter, newly returned from the desert, leaned in and shared some exciting news with me.”
“You’ll appreciate this,” said Saylor with a grin. In the course of his summering in Tucson, he explained, he’d begun to hang with tarot reader Michelle Mae.
“Saylor had good reason to assume I’d be wowed by this news,” adds the Narrator, “as indeed I was, for as I’d confided to him in the past, I’m a longtime fan of Michelle’s band The Make-Up.”
So much so, in fact, that when asked to name the best rock concert of his life, the Narrator always refers to a Make-Up show — one he caught in high school. Make-Up shared a bill with two of their Dischord Records labelmates, fellow DC punk superstars Slant 6 and Fugazi. “What a night,” says the Narrator, recalling the show proudly now in hindsight. “Seminal. Life-altering. I was sixteen years old at the time. The Make-Up were a new band, so I hadn’t heard of them prior to that evening — but I liked and admired frontman Ian Svenonius’s former band Nation of Ulysses. As for the other acts on the bill, Fugazi and Slant 6 were as good as gods to me in those days. All of it blew my mind.”
“Here I am again, in this next memory,” says the Narrator. “On the beach. Only this time, it’s a new one: Newport Beach, site of my brother’s bachelor party. Imagine me in dialogue, in a sense, with the one who was there.”
Spacetime shifts here as the character reenters the memory.
“Well, what’ll it be?” wonders the Traveler. “If spacetime is reducible to a game of multidimensional correspondence chess, then what’s our next move?”
Rising in the sky above him there at the beach house, the new moon in Leo provides the Traveler a chance to ask questions. He communes with the moon, engaging it in silent dialogue, and sets his intentions for the months ahead.
A ghostly third figure joins him in the course of the evening. It shimmers into being like a hazy wonder there amid the rocks and the waves, and in so doing, intervenes in the Traveler’s thoughts. “Let us be careful what we wish for,” warns the Ghost, “as this is a powerful, wish-granting lunar cycle.”
“Warning taken, it was with great care that I made that wish,” interjects the Narrator from the future. “And in retrospect, I regret nothing.”
“Come sunrise, in fact,” remembers the Narrator, “and a commune of sorts assembled itself down near the shore. Members set out mats and, posing silently amid squawking seabirds, practiced yoga on the beach as I wrote.”
I record a voice memo, pleased as I am with the wordless sounds of cicadas and a niece playing with water in a toy sink in my in-laws’ backyard. Mood alters, though; weight returns the moment I consult Facebook. The latter brings upon its users an atmosphere of bad feeling. “Glunk” goes the sense-board. My father-in-law cooks up delicious pastrami sandwiches (red onions, pickles, provolone stacked on kummelweck rolls, the latter a regional specialty here in Western New York). Mood enhanced, I utter thanks to the chef. Eyes closed, I open them again onto Wells’s The Time Machine. The Time Traveler sees the Dreamachine flicker of day’s interchange with night “like the flapping of a black wing” (18). Days flicker past in much the same way here, as one scrolls through these Trance-Scripts. Take comfort, though, reader: for as the Traveler explains to those caught up in his journey, this unpleasantness of moving “solstice to solstice” merges at last into “a kind of hysterical exhilaration” (Wells 19).
“The Time Traveler” (as since Wells we’ve come to speak of him) lapses again into an introspective state, “his lips moving as one who repeats mystic words” (The Time Machine, p. 5). The sight of Tokyo 2020 here in summer 2021 perplexes him.
Is that you, intrepid Unconscious, telegraphing via Internet-of-things to say, “Time is out of joint”?
It rains through the night, but we stay dry in our tent. I sleep comfortably and wake to a world of sound. Daddy long-legs spiders gather in the dry space between the breathable net of the tent’s roof and the tarp above. Breakfast is delicious: pancakes, sausage, Canadian bacon, maple syrup, bread made with cardamom and dates, purchased the morning prior by the author’s aunt and uncle from a farmer’s market in Bolton Landing. Tent goes tie-dye with the addition of a blue tarp. I reflect for a time on the pyramidal symbology of my surroundings: zippers, seams, poles all tending toward apex as we await windows of sunlight. Respite from the rain. Camping educates desire. In my case, it teaches me the value of nooks, coves, hideaways. My nephews lead me to a hollow formed beneath the roots of a tree, down near the edge of the lake. “Bookmark it, note it down, save it for later,” thinks the time traveler. “The image may be of use to us elsewhere in our journey.” News arrives soon thereafter: another inch or two of rain expected in the night ahead.
Camping: a play starring mother, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephews, aunts and uncles, Sarah and Frankie. Air mattress craps out, so Sarah drives into town to purchase another. I stay behind at the camp, in a camp chair beside Frankie as she naps. Sister orders pizza; brother-in-law and uncle handle boat and jet-ski. Domed tents go up amid leafy profusion: Coleman, Ozark Trail. ‘Tis the universe of Sears-Roebuck, L.L. Bean, and Whole Earth Catalog: temporary tools and architectures. But beside each tent sits a car, where in earlier times would have stood a horse. Nothing here is as I wish. No wisdom, no gnosis. No silence, no solace. No love ’til I sit with trees. Is the time travel narrative’s hero the one who stays or the one who goes?
‘Tis suburbia, of a more intense sort than any other of the various elsewheres I’ve lived. Yield signs, flags everywhere. But also gardens, hydrangeas, bunnies. And some of the houses are quite lovely. Did I mention the bounce houses? Sarah and I counted no fewer than five such structures within a one-block radius of my sister’s house this afternoon as we returned from lunch. To live this way is to affirm castles on canals in some uprooted, replanted Venice Upon Oyster Bay. Despite reprehensible “Back the Blue” stickers on the backs of pickups and other bones one might pick with the place, why bother? Others have picked them clean, them bones, yet there they remain whether we attend to them or not. As do the seagulls, the waves, the motorboats. A cool breeze tickles behind my ear and down my neck. The wonder of a quiet moment. Thumbing the pages of Frank O’Hara’s collected poems, I happen upon “Autobiographia Literaria.” The poem reminds me of my own beginning, early stanzas equal to my own early sorrow. But with the affirmation of its final stanza, the poem arrives and I arise transformed, accepting both the good and the bad with equanimity.
Wake up, little bunnies! Mr. Gloom, be on your way! Beaches, pools, campgrounds: ’tis time to have fun. Picture the garden as it ripens. Imagine those tasty veggies, those delicious leaves of lettuce. There are reasons for our bellies to feel full again. Pizzas and milkshakes in New York; salads here at home. Meals will become again things we savor. We’ll go motorboating; we’ll become godparents (ceremony in a church — the whole bit). When I wake each morning, it will be to the light of the sun as it shines on the roof of my tent.